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BIG SANDY LAKE… It was a couple of nights past the epic three overtime battle between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins, and the Fan Jr. and I were on a late-night call. With no hockey on this summer eve, we briefly talked a bit about the Twins and then the NBA Finals that are underway between Miami and San Antonio. Since neither one of us is much for following the NBA anymore, we talked about some pickup games we had with some neighbor kids at the park down the street. It was smooth concrete with a hoop at each end. With the big lake 300 feet away and solid rock beneath us, I was always kind of amazed that the concrete court wasn’t as heaved as our garage floor.
We always brought a regulation-sized ball with us and also had a mini Chicago Bulls ball with, too. The Fan Jr. was young and the Bulls were in the midst of their six-title championship run. He brought up the crazy half-court shot that his grandfather had perfected (my father, the only hoopster in the family) that he aptly, in the sixties, named the “moon shot.” It was nothing but an old two-handed set shot, but it worked. Not to be outdone by him, and because we played a lot of hoops in the hockey off-season, I eventually became fairly good at it as well. Nonetheless, it didn’t slow down his low-keyed, polite trash talking.
He came to our old neighborhood court in the Cities once, asked for the ball from one of my buddies, went to the half-court line, and then stood and stared at the hoop for five minutes. All activity stopped and all eyes were on him. Finally he bounced the ball once, put it up with a really high arc, and… swish it went! He turned and left the court, walking home, sauntering like he was out walking the dog. Never said a word. Sometimes trash talk can come in the form of silence as well.
The Fan Jr. spoke of the time we had about five guys from the local hockey club playing at the park and the two best players from the local high school team showed up to shoot around. Not giving it any thought at all, I went to mid-court and put one u—swish! I could see the two guys watching. I threw up a second attempt. Nothing but net! I saw one of the guys say something to the other. I thought, what the heck, and put up one more lunar launch. BOOM! A trey of “downtown” treys! Trey to the trey power! The two local hoop stars left. We both laughed at the story, then the Fan Jr. asked who that one guy was on the Bulls who used to be a real good outside shooter that we really liked. I used to call him “Downtown.” I said it was “Downtown” Steve Kerr.
I went on to explain the story of Kerr and his father, Malcolm Kerr, who was an educator who plied his work mostly in foreign countries. His final stop was as the president of the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. Kerr himself was born there. The family, though, went back and forth between there and the States, depending on what the elder Kerr was doing professionally. In the meantime, the young Kerr was developing as an athlete and basketball player. He was good enough to eventually get a spot on Lute Olson’s U of Arizona team. When Kerr was a freshman in Phoenix in the mid-eighties, Beirut was no longer a safe place to be. Middle Eastern politics, religion, and rage were exploding, literally and figuratively, and with an American military presence in the region, some people were fed up with anything and everything American. As I looked online to give my son some more accurate info as to what had happened, I came upon the newspaper story that broke the news of what had occurred.
Kerr was shot and killed outside of a campus building by Islamist extremists. The young Kerr was awakened at 3 a.m. to be given the grave news. Shaken thoroughly, he was brought over to Coach Olson’s residence. People associated with the team came over to lend support to the stunned Kerr. When he resumed playing with the team, in a game against their number-one rival, Arizona State, quite a few ASU fans, both insensitive and uneducated, began shouting insults at Kerr. One of the shouts was “PLO, PLO” in reference to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, who had no connection to the elder Kerr’s assassins. Another chant was “Where is your father?”
I had certainly known of this story for a long time, and, in fact, remember when it happened. I had forgotten some of the ugly details such as these. Steve Kerr himself was and is one of the best guys to ever be associated with the NBA. The word class doesn’t do him justice. He was in on the second half of the Bulls’ six-title reign, and then got a couple more rings with San Antonio before retiring. The behavior of some of the ASU fans towards Kerr was, in my opinion, about the sickest, most misguided, and repulsive I have ever seen from sports fans…. PEACE
MFAN STANLEY CUP UPDATE:
In a Game One NHL 3OT classic, the Chicago Blackhawks came back from a 3-1 deficit to eventually win 4-3 over the Bruins on a double deflection goal. This could be important for the Hawks, as a majority of Game One winners go on to win the Cup. However, earlier this eve, the Bruins bested the Hawks in a highly contested 1OT game by a score of 2-1, knotting the series up at a game apiece heading out east to Beantown. Both goalies have been tough, the Hawks’ transition game has been slightly better, and the Hawks’ coaching adjustments have been slightly better, but the Bruins’ tenacity has been ferocious. The B’s now have home ice advantage unless the Hawks can win one out east. Should be a couple of awesome games. Cheapest ducat I could find online was going for $620 for Saturday’s game… Over and Out!
Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.